Open Access Government explores the priorities for education and training in the Irish state, following the appointment of Joe McHugh TD as the Minister for Education and Skills, replacing Richard Bruton TD in the role during October 2018
The Department of Education and Skills is a government department of the Irish state who is responsible for the areas of education and training. Their mission is to facilitate individuals through learning in order for full potential to be achieved so that people can play their part in Ireland’s social, cultural and economic development. (1) It’s interesting to note that education and training provision is a policy area that is also covered by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation who believe that: “skills needs are identified and met through alignment of education and training provision.” (2)
A short profile of Joe McHugh TD
Joe McHugh TD was recently appointed the Minister for Education and Skills, replacing Richard Bruton TD in the role on 16 October 2018. Richard is now Minister of Communications, Climate Action & Environment. (3)
In terms of Joe McHugh’s background, he was born in 1971 and is the second eldest of five children. His father Denis was a builder and farmer and mother Mary worked as a district nurse and today, the family continues to live at Claggan, Carrigart. Joe previously served as Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Culture with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands up to October 2018.
In July 2011, he was appointed as Co-Chairperson of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly and during July 2012, Deputy McHugh was elected as Chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Deputy McHugh was re-elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael TD for Donegal back in 2016. His career prior to that included his time as a geography and maths teacher at Loreto Convent in Letterkenny from 1993-95 and teaching A-level economics in Dubai between 1995 and 1996. He also worked as a Community Youth Worker in Glenwood, Letterkenny between the years of 1996 1999. (4)
National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development 2014-2020
Let’s now turn and look at some of the Minister’s recent work around education and training. One example is when he attended the National Forum on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in late November 2018, where he launched the mid-term review of the ESD Strategy. The Review acknowledges the significant amount of work that has taken place since the launch of the Strategy in 2014 and details the resulting action plan up to 2020.
As new curricula are developed at all levels, key ESD principles are being embedded and integrated into the Strategy. As such, the role of educators is vital to success and teacher training programmes are also being developed and revised and to take on board ESD themes and elements. Minister McHugh said at the event that: “Educating our students about Sustainable Development is key to ensuring responsible citizenship into the future”.
Certainly, there has been much cross-sectoral collaboration in relation to the implementation of the strategy and of the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (2015) and the Irish Aid Development Education Strategy. Minister McHugh expressed his own thoughts about this: “The great work being done by our stakeholders to deliver on the aims of the Strategy, highlighted in the review, are acknowledged and appreciated. This collaboration has been key to the successes to date”. (5)
The English language training sector
In early December 2018, Minister for Higher Education, Minister Mitchell O’Connor underlined that the example at Grafton College Dublin, exposed weaknesses in the availability of fair terms and conditions of employment in parts of the English language training sector.
The proposed International Education Mark (IEM) is a key component of the Irish Government’s policy for the English language training sector by providing a quality framework for the provision of education to international learners travelling to Ireland to learn English.
The Minister stated her priorities for the sector: “I want an English language education sector that we have confidence in and which provides a quality education to students coming to Ireland to learn English. Those working in it are integral to the quality of that provision.
“No-one wants to see English language teachers not being paid or being deprived of their employment rights. The situation that has emerged at Grafton College where teachers have been left without salaries is completely unacceptable.” (6)
Irish-Medium and Gaeltacht education
Finally, let’s look at another promising area of education policy, which takes us back to October when the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh T.D launched a new Masters in Irish-Medium and Gaeltacht Education (M.Ed.) in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. This teacher education programme is another step in the implementation of the Gaeltacht Education Policy 2017-2022 and encompasses part of a greater national plan in the Irish State to tackle issues concerning the supply of teachers.
Speaking at the launch, Joe McHugh T.D. provided his own insights into this important step forward in Irish education policy, which brings this article to a conclusion on a positive note: “It is great that specific entry criteria for Irish language proficiency are required to gain a place on this postgraduate programme. This programme constitutes a wonderful opportunity to provide different options for participants who wish to gain expertise in the field of Gaeltacht and Irish-medium education. Through this programme, students can undertake a Postgraduate Certificate, a Postgraduate Diploma or a Master’s in Education through the medium of Irish.
“I hope that this new postgraduate teacher education programme will go from strength to strength in the future. I have provided funding under the Gaeltacht Education Policy 2017-2022 to register 30 participants every year, which should result in 5 cohorts of 30 teachers/principals over a 6-year period.” (7)
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